By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
IT IS likely that the government will hold its severely stalled equality referendum within the first half of this year, according to National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage yesterday, as he stressed that the vote “is still very much on the books”.
The Bain and Grants Town MP, who has responsibility for elections and referenda, told reporters that the vote to reform the country’s Constitution will be discussed in Parliament some time this month.
However, Dr Nottage said he was unsure of the cost associated with holding the vote. The last referendum, the 2013 vote over legalising gaming, cost taxpayers over $1.2m.
“It’s very much still on the books,” Dr Nottage said while on the sidelines of a working lunch meeting for anti-drug stakeholders at police headquarters on East Street.
“Might I add it will be talked about in Parliament this month and Parliament will have to make a decision on when to debate the bills. The referendum is likely to be carried out before the middle of this year.”
Asked whether the opposition was now on board with each of the four equality Bills, which has for “a very long time” been in the committee phase of the House of Assembly, Dr Nottage said it was his understanding that each member would do whatever they feel is right for them.
“As I understand it the opposition is not going to take a position on it. They are going to leave it up to their members to do what members feel is right for them. We expect to get some support from the opposition and we expect our government members to support the Bills.
“The bills have been in the committee phase in the House for a very long time and I expect that there may be some changes in people’s positions (but) we won’t know until we go back to Parliament with that on the agenda.”
This comes two weeks after Chief Justice Sir Hartman Longley urged that equal rights for Bahamian women should not be delayed by critics who believe an amendment to the Constitution would facilitate the legality of same sex marriage.
The top judge made the remarks on the controversial issue at the opening of the new legal year, during a ceremony in the Supreme Court.
Addressing scores of judicial officers at the event, Sir Hartman declared his “unequivocal support to the efforts being made to provide legislatively for the equality of men and women before the law.
“As I listen to the public discourse on the issues, I think it is unfair, for the reasons being given, that Bahamian women and those who support them are finding opposition to legislation which is primarily intended to level the playing field and correct an historical anomaly.”
A recent report by the World Bank Group, entitled ‘Women, Business and the Law 2016’, listed The Bahamas as one of 22 countries in the world whose constitutions do not allow for married women to convey their nationality to their children and spouses in the same way that men can.
Similarly, the report noted that the Bahamas is one of 44 countries in the world in which spouses do not have equal rights to convey citizenship. As such, the report cited the Bahamas as being one country of many that hosts “gender-based legal restrictions”.
The issue of gender equality is a part of the long-delayed constitutional referendum that has stalled since 2013.
During the summer of 2014, Prime Minister Perry Christie tabled the four Constitutional Amendment Bills in the House of Assembly, which must be passed by three quarters’ support in both houses of Parliament for a referendum to be held.
The first bill would enable a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian woman and a non-Bahamian father to have automatic Bahamian citizenship at birth. However, the government does not plan to have the clause operate retroactively.
The second bill would allow a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to secure for him the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a Bahamian man has always enjoyed under the Constitution in relation to his foreign wife.
The third bill seeks to remedy the one area of the Bahamas’ Constitution that discriminates against men based on gender. Presently, an unmarried Bahamian father cannot pass his citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman.
This would give an unwed Bahamian father the same right to pass citizenship to his child that a Bahamian woman has always had under the Constitution in relation to a child born to her out of wedlock, provided proof of paternity.
There is concern in some quarters that bill four, which seeks to end discrimination based on sex, could pave the way for gay marriage. The government has repeatedly said this concern is unwarranted.